Whitewater Kayaking in the Desert


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Middle East » United Arab Emirates » Al Ain
August 10th 2013
Published: August 10th 2013
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I almost died here :)I almost died here :)I almost died here :)

The death trap
For Eid, our company was given off Thursday through Monday, so I worked until later than usual Wednesday evening before coming home and starting my leave. I did laundry and packed for my upcoming trip to Al Ain. Thursday morning, I headed to the airport around 11am for my early afternoon flight - there was nobody on the road! I made it to the airport in less than 20 minutes! I was flying Qatar Airways as I do occasionally. There is a separate terminal for them; usually, I go in to the "Cabin Baggage" only counter and I get through in about 2 minutes. Same thing today, except in the regular checkin area, where I almost never see anyone, it was PACKED. And that's when you realize that it is holiday time! Our flight was PACKED and I was in the very last seat, in the middle, and the A/C was not working... It was a very hot flight! Fortunately, the two people on either side of me were fanning themselves and I got some of that action without having to do anything.

I went to Jamie's place and chilled for a while with Addi, watching some TV, before heading to Mall of the Emirates. We ate at the Cheesecake Factory, which was HUGE and adjacent to the ski slope, so we could see the people playing in the snow. I still want to ski in the desert sometime soon! Food was good, staff was amazing, air was very chilly and it was just a nice start to the weekend. No alcohol, so I just had about three glasses of iced tea. Then we wandered around until it was time for VIP movie: Pacific Rim. Apparently, I'm the only person out there who thinks this has to be one of the worst movies ever made...

The next morning, we packed, then went to IHOP for breakfast, where you get a view of the gulf and the Palm while eating (Garden omelette and iced tea, of course). We picked up a few snacks then headed east. I'd done many dune bashing drives, or driven out to the Rugby 7's, and so yes, the desert is still there! So, I ready my book until we started getting close and seeing some large geologic outcrops. The bedding was tilted and very cool looking! There were some very large houses, and the city
outer and inner routesouter and inner routesouter and inner routes

outer route (right) is easiest
itself seems very clean and planned out. Even the slums that I saw are better than what I'm used to seeing here. All in all, it looks like a nice place to live. So far.

We checked into the Rotana Hotel.... Rotana, my former favorite chain. With the last experience at Arjaan, I was willing to give it one more go. This place is not too bad, but it touts itself as a 5-star hotel. It is not. I would say it is maybe a 4-star. They're expanding on it and that new place looks very nice. The difference with this hotel compared to Arjaan is while the experience has not been always the best, the staff goes above and beyond to accommodate you. Our room was not ready, even though we arrived later than we needed to, so they gave us free breakfast buffet. We had an issue at the restaurant last night (to be discussed later), so they provided us free internet (my real complaint here is that it is 85 dirhams a DAY for internet!!!! I refused to pay, then they came to our room with an account for us).

That evening, we drove about twenty minutes to the water park where we had planned kayaking at 6:30 and rafting at 8:30. We were debating postponing the rafting until later that weekend, thinking we'd be too tired to do both so quickly. Only when we arrived at the water park, they said someone else had used our reservation!!!! Seriously, sometimes the people here just shock me with their complete lack of morals. The staff worked very hard to get us back on track and rescheduled our rafting for the next evening. Then we went for kayaking. I'd only done very minor, standing water kayaking previously, so I was a little nervous. Even though I love the water, love swimming.. I still get nervous with this type of thing! (Like underwater helicopter egress training - no problem, but get the butterflies in the tummy before!).

Our guide is this Spanish guy, John (Juan?), who is on a summer long adventure, trying to make his way to Nepal. He got held up in the visa process, so he came out here for a few days to help teach kayaking. I'm so jealous of these types of people sometimes. Jamie is convinced he likes me, and I think he is a cutie (and a fellow engineer!!) - we should see him again tonight. I will try out my dormant Spanish on him! Anyway, enough about boys...

John showed us the basics of holding the paddle and had us paddle around the little pool first. He also dipped us a couple of times so we could practice escaping the kayak when it rolls over. You wear this cover around your waist and strap yourself into the main hole in the kayak so that the hole is basically water tight. There is a handle in the very front that you pull when you go under and the whole thing comes off and you swim away. No problem right? We go up this conveyor belt -took me forever and John had to push me on because I kept getting sucked into the eddy by the bridge... He was asking about Jamie, who hated doing the practicing thing, she just wanted to go ("This girl Jamie - she cannot wait, can she?" I started cracking up!).

At the top, there are two routes you can take - the outer route is the easiest, so we started there. He gave some really good pointers and I had almost no problems on the first route. Jamie and Addi had done this here before, so they knew more of what to expect and were good about waiting for me. We got to the bottom, headed to the conveyor belt, I got sucked into the eddy, John pulled me over, and we went up again. You have to cross this violently churning pool to get to the routes, and we headed to the easy route again. This time, we went down practically without stopping. Awesome. And I was the only one who went through the end backwards, per John's request, just to see what it was like.

The third time, I made it to the conveyor belt on my own, only I entered the belt backwards, but he said it didn't matter. And it didn't; in fact, I found it easier to turn myself when we got off. This time, we went to the level two route, which was faster. I was doing so good this whole time, never once flipping, so that when I finally did, I was completely surprised! I can't even remember how it happened - probably I just stopped concentrating. But I was so surprised that when I got underwater, I completely forgot what to do! Fortunately, I was not panicked and finally pulled my strap. John had been nearby and was trying to flip my boat at the same time I was swimming out, so I got pushed under a little longer and scraped my leg. But it was fine. And I was very glad it happened, because coming up next was the death trap....

Jamie recommended I go first with John in case something happened. I made it over the drop into the swirling pool just fine and was almost through when I got sucked back into the eddy. John pushed me out and I get sucked back in again. The third time, I flipped right under the water fall. I was very glad to have had my flipping experience just before, so I knew exactly what to do and pulled my strap. No problem. Then, when I tried to swim to the surface, I couldn't!!! I kept getting pulled and pushed down by the water. I actually had a moment in my head where I thought, oh my god, I might actually drown! But
platform for other stuffplatform for other stuffplatform for other stuff

ziplining, climbing, swing...
again, I was not too panicked and decided to swim out instead of up and let the current pull me down the river. Since this is the most dangerous part of the route, John is in the water, and there is another guide watching just above. Jamie had told me the water was shallow so you can stand, but even though I tried, I never once felt the bottom. I probably got pulled down the river about 50 yards or so before I broke the surface and looked back. The other guide told me to swim to the side (I was ready to just lazy river it at this point), so I did and climbed out. I was totally fine - no water up the nose, no coughing, just a little chlorinated water burp. :p I stood watching and clearing out my kayak while Jamie and Addi came through - they did pretty good! I asked if there were anymore death traps on the river and was assured there weren't so I clipped back into my kayak and continued on. John said he was surprised at how long I stayed under (30 secs or so) and that I actually was doing pretty well, having almost made it out.

When we got back to the pool, Addi was the last one and flipped right at the end. So it took a while for him to be able to pull the kayak over to a spot to get back in. It was also the end of kayaking for the evening but everyone, including John, wanted to go one more time, so Addi took advantage of being out of the boat to check with management. I was all for the easy route, but I didn't want to repeat the death trap, so I said I'd paddle around in the lagoon until they got back. But then the manager came over and I didn't want to get John in trouble, so I got out and waited. It actually took a long time and I began to think maybe they were caught in the death trap. They eventually came down and had in fact both flipped at the same spot, but not at the death trap. So, I actually felt a little better. 😊

We thanked John for a great time and went to go change. Jamie and Addi chilled for a few and I took some photos. The set up is very interesting in that you are at the base of Jebel Hafeet (Mountain) and this water park is lit up at night - it looked so fake, like a stage! And then Jamie or Addi made the comment of how ironic that the mountain is the only thing that is natural and we are the artificial presence...

We got back to the hotel, made a reservation at Trader Vic's, watched a wedding procession as we went upstairs and then changed into normal clothes. Trader Vic's - I'd never been to before and I liked it. I really just wanted a juicy hamburger and onion rings, but this is not their type of fare. So, I ordered a Menehune (light and dark rum with juice) cocktail, grilled hammour (delicious) with asparagus (delicious) and wasabi mashed potatoes (delicious!). Then Addi decided to order us each the Tiki Puka Puka, strong, which is some alcoholic drink that knocks you on your butt. It took forever to get the bill...after 20 mins and two requests, we finally just went to the front and told them to charge to our room. The manager of the restaurant came over to us after we left the front desk with our request for towels and internet and apologized. Other than the bill, we'd been extremely happy with everything else. Oh well. We made it back to the room, got more towels and our internet package, and passed out.


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Grilled hammourGrilled hammour
Grilled hammour

Food was absolutely delicious
Fish tankFish tank
Fish tank

These guys stared at us while we ate...


11th August 2013

It\'s really great to see what you are up to, Pookie. I can\'t wait for your next update!

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